Sydney Morning Herald picks up on the bike lights story

I spent an hour or so on Monday morning in the company of Amanda Hoh, a video journalist from Fairfax Digital, looking at the bike lane traffic lights which have so exercised me over the last couple of weeks. I was Amanda's guide and model for a video piece on the lights. We tested various ways of hitting the sensors and found that they really only work when you're dead center on the line where the diamond markings should be. We also discovered, in an adjunct experiment, that it's not sufficient to have a wheel on the outer edge of the sensor and a metal cycle cleat on the centre line - they're just not sensitive enough. Lastly, we noted that almost no-one using the corridor actually knows about the sensors.

That's me, standing to the left of the picture. If you've read my previous posts on these lights, you'll notice none of the cyclists in the shot are on the sensor. I was, of course, deliberately avoiding it in order to demonstrate that the lights don't change if you're not lined up just right. The other riders appeared to be unaware of their existence, as it appears the majority of riders are.

Stewart Lockrey, the police spokesman in the video, is absolutely right - the law does state that even though these sensors are laughably inadequate for the task, and poorly publicised, and barely known, that jumping the red light is illegal. Not technically illegal. Illegal. But as I've said before, if the light doesn't change, and you know it should have changed, what are you going to do? Turn around and go home? And if it happens every time you use the path, what's your belief going to be about the lights? Would you believe that they're actually broken, perhaps? Mr Lockrey suggests that cyclists should get off and walk, at which I of course scoff. There's a bike lane right in front of you, you're on a bike. You can see it's safe. The lane is clear. The traffic is stopped while the pedestrians walk. You're not human if you get off and push. But you're breaking the law, and possibly copping a fine.

The ball is essentially in the court of City of Sydney and the RTA/RMS to fix this problem (and I'll shortly be blogging some info on what they're planning to do about it), otherwise riders will continue to jump the lights, and will continue to anger drivers and pedestrians who see them doing so, and continue to cop fines for doing so, all of which is damaging the reputation of Sydney Cycleways in the eyes of riders, pedestrians and drivers. 

In the larger picture, Australian cycling regulations also need to be examined. As I've noted previously, there's an inconsistency, or at least an uncomfortable imbalance, in the way Australian regulations (in this I include cycleway construction and traffic control) treat riders as part pedestrian and part vehicle. I think bikes need to be given the discretion to:

  • turn left on red when it's safe for both riders and other road users
  • go straight ahead at a red where there's no left turn, again when safe to do so 
  • cross alongside pedestrian controlled junctions during the pedestrian cycle, again when safe to do so.

Riders already do all these things on an unofficial basis, but they're illegal. If riders cross when it's unsafe, they need to be appropriately charged and fined, but I believe they should not be fined for the victimless crime of crossing a junction safely alongside pedestrians, as has been happening in Pyrmont*.

We as riders can already assert control over an entire lane (which drivers don't seem to believe is true), we can ride two abreast providing we're no more than 1.5 metres apart (again which drivers don't seem to believe). We can legally pass cars on the left, both moving and stationary. We can use bus lanes, though I sometimes find that more intimidating than riding the centre of Parammatta Road, thank you very much. These are necessary rules which allow us to use the road without constant stopping and dismounting to cross and overtake traffic. Why don't the cycleways have similar progress-oriented provisions to allow us to get on with the business of propelling ourselves from A to B? Why must we spend 80% or more of a given light sequence standing around waiting for a green light which may never come when we can clearly see a safe way to progress?

Because it's the law, I suppose. Which to me isn't a good enough answer. Laws can be changed.

Without rules that recognise the unique situation that riders are in, I believe uptake of cycling will fail to reach its potential, and Sydney planners' vision of the city as an environmentally friendly, sustainable transport utopia will continue to wither on the vine. Riders will continue to be caught like fish in a barrel by police crackdowns, which some have labelled simple stat-boosting to easily raise the figures on number of fines issued, and cars will continue to dominate the cityscape. And I do so hate traffic jams.

I am, of course, making a pain in the ass of myself around various agencies about this whole thing. I expect some of them to get quite bored of me soon, if they're not bored already.

I rode through Sydney CBD on Sunday afternoon. There was no traffic whatsoever, yet had I used the cycleways, I would have been legally required to wait until the pedestrian phase of the light cycles, possibly doubling my travel time. Instead, I took the road, avoiding the cycle lanes entirely.

As for Pyrmont, this morning I avoided the Union Street corridor by instead dropping down from the end of Anzac Bridge onto the shared cycleway around Pyrmont Point and Pirrama Park - an extra kilometre or so, but far less frustrating and actually a lot more scenic. I recommend it. Avoid Union Street like the plague, and possibly avoid a fine into the bargain.

 Lastly, I really will get back to the blog's normal business of yelling at antivaxers and fundamentalist lunatics as soon as I can. That and pictures of cats.


* This of course does NOT mean that there were no unsafe red-light infractions fined. It just means that there were certainly riders that were crossing safely along with the pedestrian stream (when the cycle lights should change) fined.

posted @ Wednesday, March 21, 2012 12:47 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Sydney Morning Herald picks up on the bike lights story

Left by Julian at 3/21/2012 1:19 PM
You are right to be following this on a number of fronts, including the people responsible for putting in the induction loops.

Here, you suggest changes to the law. I was involved in lobbying (in a very small way) for the changing of the cycling laws about a decade ago, and this is what I learned:

Bob Hawke, when he was PM, told the states to make their road laws more consistent, or he would withhold their money. The result was a two phase system:

The National Transport Commission (, formerly known as the NTRC) comes up with the Australian Road Rules, which is merely a template for the states - not law!

The first step is to apply to them to get the amendments in to their next version which they issue on occasion. Expect this to take some time measured in years.

(Actually, the first step is to get a copy of the current rules and make sure improvements aren't already in the pipeline.)

Once they issue the new template, each state, at its own pace, takes the template, tweaks a few of the parameters to suit their own needs (e.g. NSW adds special laws for Centennial Park, IIRC), and adopts it as law. This process takes several years too (and NSW was one of the slowest adopters when I was following it).

It took a long time, but we were ultimately successful, and the laws are more sane now than they were 10 years ago.

Do I need to point out IANAL?
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